GANNETT PAID CHIQUITA $14 MILLION

By: Todd Shields

Court Documents Reveal Settlement Details


WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the emotionally charged legal battle between Gannett Co. Inc. and its former Cincinnati Enquirer Editor Lawrence K. Beaupre heads toward a scheduling conference Friday, Editor & Publisher has obtained court documents that for the first time make public all aspects of Gannett’s expensive and embarrassing out-of-court settlement with Chiquita Brands International over a controversial expose edited on Beaupre’s watch.

The most dramatic revelation in the 15-page settlement agreement, on file in Superior Court for the District of Columbia as part of a civil suit by Beaupre claiming that Gannett made him the scapegoat for the Enquirer’s botched investigation of alleged questionable business practices by Chiquita, ended a long-standing mystery: How much cash did Gannett pay Chiquita as part of the settlement? The amount, contrary to a much bandied-about $10 million, was $14 million.

In response to questions from E&P, Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell confirmed the existence of the long-confidential settlement agreement, and said the $14 million had been paid.

The Enquirer in a front-page story and a special section in May 1998 reported on alleged business abuses by Cincinnati-based Chiquita. But it quickly retracted its findings after admitting that the lead reporter in the probe, Michael Gallagher, had illegally accessed company voice mail.

Other highlights of the settlement document include:

o Chiquita agreed not to sue Gannett or its employees, “with the
exception of Michael Gallagher,” over the voice-mail breach.
o Apologies appearing in the Enquirer were to carry “the
lead headline above the fold” on page A1.
o Gannett pledged to remove all articles published in the
Chiquita series from its Web sites.
o Gannett was to investigate its employees and tell Chiquita if
it determined any Enquirer workers engaged in illegal
conduct.
o Gannett was to provide Chiquita representatives “with unlimited
access to all recordings, transcripts or other copies or
transcriptions of voicemail messages” that Gannett possessed.
o Gannett was to seal and bar most access to transcripts,
documents, reporters’ notes and other material used in preparing
the Chiquita articles.
o Gannett agreed to cut all links from its Web sites to the
Chiquita articles.
o Beaupre and Cameron McWhirter, a co-writer of the Chiquita
articles, were to be barred from again writing about the banana
company.

Beaupre in his suit filed last spring against Gannett, Chiquita
and other parties claims he was unfairly blamed for the Chiquita
investigation’s problems. He seeks unspecified damages. After the
Chiquita blow-up, he was transferred to Gannett headquarters in
Arlington, Va., and later dismissed – after filing his suit.

Beaupre’s lawsuit represents the latest fallout from the
Enquirer’s heavily promoted investigation into the world’s
largest banana company. The newspaper’s May 3, 1998 edition, in an
18-page special section, alleged that Chiquita
and subsidiaries were involved in a bribery scheme in Colombia,
engaged in possibly harmful use of pesticides, and used brute
force to maintain authority over plantations.

Gallagher was soon fired by the Enquirer as it
became known he had illegally accessed Chiquita’s voice mail
system. Gallagher later received five years’ probation. Earlier,
he revealed the name of a then-Chiquita attorney, George S.
Ventura, who also received probation in the voice-mail theft.

Throughout the drawn-out, highly public aftermath of the report
it remained unclear how much the Enquirer had paid in the
settlement. According to the copy of the June 1998 settlement
agreement filed in D.C. Superior Court, both sides were forbidden
to make public the exact amount of the payment, according to the 15-
page agreement. However, Chiquita and Gannett officials alike
“may reveal that The Enquirer has made a payment of over
$10 million,” said the agreement dated June 29, 1998.

The agreement also says the Enquirer’s apology “will be
printed in the same type size and style as the headline,
‘Chiquita: An Empire Built On Controversy’ that was published on
the front page of the May 3, 1998 edition.” It said no headline
could have a larger type size than the headline to the apology.

Gannett has said it denies Beaupre’s allegations. “Rather than accepting responsibility for the news articles that he edited and for which he later personally apologized, Mr. Beaupre’s lawsuit attempts to shift to The Enquirer, and its parent company, Gannett, the responsibility for any damage to his career and reputation,” Gannett said in a press release last spring, shortly after Beaupre’s suit was filed.

After District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters on Jan. 16 partly denied motions by Gannett lawyers and Chiquita to dismiss the case, a scheduling conference was set for this Friday. Meanwhile, Beaupre, 55, is working as a consultant. He currently is filling in as interim managing editor for The Scranton (Pa.) Times and The Tribune while helping seek a permanent replacement.



Todd Shields (tshields@editorandpublisher.com) is the Washington editor for E&P. Reporting was contributed by Lucia Moses.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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